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October 17, 2012 8:35 AM The New York Debate

By Jonathan Bernstein

My Washington Postpostdebate piece is about Libya, lazy mendacity, and the conservative information feedback loop. What I didn’t realize when I wrote it is that Team Romney and conservatives in general are apparently hard at work trying to convince everyone that calling an attack “terror” is totally and completely different than calling it “terrorism.”

Anyway, since I did a bit of substance over there, I’ll stick to theater criticism over here. Romney, I thought, did just fine with the ordinary voters, and mostly gave a solid performance during most of the debate. His problem is that his campaign is almost completely absent of policy, and that can be hard to work around. I mean, every time he talks about his budget or tax policies he digs the hole deeper…as I’ve been tweeting, on the budget his policy appears to be that he’s in favor of every single specific program but also for slashing spending, because spending is bad. But he delivered his tax and budget points confidently and sounded as if he was making sense.

As for Obama…he was there, he was at times very good. But lots of missed opportunities; three or four times he wound up unnecessarily on the defensive and talked about topics Romney was happy to stay on instead of shifting to the ground he wanted. Manufacturing jobs was one; he actually has a pretty decent story on that about accomplishments (or, to be more precise, good news he can take credit for) but followed Romney into China and stayed there for a long time for no obvious reason.

I thought the questions were generally fine, except for the last one (asking the candidates to correct wrong impressions about them), which was used as a prompt for closing statements, so I suppose that’s not so bad. No, they didn’t cover everything, but they did get a fair amount of material covered. I think there’s a perception that Obama was fairly lucky with the questions…my sense is that he had a nice run at one point, but I’d have to go back and check to see how it was overall.

As far as Candy Crowley, I thought she did an excellent job overall (including, don’t forget, choosing questions). She let them alone quite a bit, but also moved them to new questions pretty forcefully, which worked out fine. Republicans are roasting her for her decision to fact-check-in-progress on Libya, and I think that’s mostly correct — but, you know, it’s hard to feel sorry for Romney given that he was, in fact, wrong.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.